How many of us grew up seeing those advertisements? How many of us had adults telling us to drink our milk, because it would keep us healthy, make our bones strong, and help us grow? How many of us learned to memorize the food pyramid, dairy being its own important category. Dairy, for many of us, is an inescapable part of our diets. Cheese, ice cream, chocolate, butter — all of it is dairy. And let’s be honest, we’ve all tried those vegan brownies here and there, and many of us would not go back for seconds.
Personally, I’ve always loved milk. When all my friends had to be coerced into drinking their milk, I would be downing those mini-cartons at recess. But, I’ve been learning more and more about the dairy industry recently, and together, I thought we’d explore some controversies.
1. Babies need milk.
This is true. Babies do need milk. They need breast milk or infant formula. Breast milk contains a unique combination of vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, enzymes, minerals, and lactose which are important for babies’ brain development, digestive systems, and protection from illness. It is not recommended that you give your child cow milk before he or she turns one because there are no vitamins in it that your baby needs.
2. Lactose Intolerance
25% percent of the US population is lactose intolerant. 75% of the worldwide population is lactose intolerant. That’s a big number. That’s a majority of people. What this means is that three-quarters of the world’s population actually lose their lactase enzymes after weaning. Many people take this fact to mean that humans are not meant to digest milk after infancy, but others say that it is no reason to stop drinking milk if your body can healthily consume it.
3. The calcium though!!!
Calcium will give you strong bones! This was a sentence I heard in schools, from parents, and even from television commercials. The implication for strong bones is to prevent the body’s deterioration in the future, protecting against osteoporosis. Your bones and teeth do store a lot of calcium, and making sure to consume an adequate amount of calcium is important!
But, there is no consensus yet on how much calcium is actually best to consume; in fact, studies show serious doubt that high consumption of milk for adults will be that beneficial for bones. Further, milk might not be the optimal source for that calcium either (dark leafy greens also have high concentrations of calcium, vitamin K, and other nutrients without the fat and risks of milk).
4. Drinking milk has some serious risks
Dairy has been associated with developing, or worsening acne. That is not to say that it causes acne, but there is a correlation in a diet that includes dairy and acne. More serious are the claims that dairy might contribute to cancer. The truth of the matter is that the research is not conclusive. In fact, studies are showing that high consumption of calcium might protect against bowel cancer. On the other hand, some research is showing a link between milk and ovarian and prostate cancer. There is also
There is also research which has found some correlation in populations that consume large amounts of dairy and the development of multiple sclerosis. Studies are still developing, but professionals recommend that most important is to maintain a balanced diet.
5. Let’s talk about dairy farming because that shit’s serious
Genetic manipulation has led to today’s cows producing 12 times the amount of milk they would naturally. 97% of newborn calves are forcibly removed from their mothers almost immediately to start maximizing profit. Cows should be able to live to 20-25 years, but with their poor living conditions, constant confinement, cyclical impregnation, consistent lactation, and overworked and over-exhausted bodies, cows meant for dairy farming live to about 4-5 years before they become weaker and are slaughtered for their meat.
For many, these facts and those about the inhumane treatment of animals in the farming industry would convince them to adopt a vegan diet. For others, it might encourage them to seek free-range meat, eggs, and milk. That way, the consumer should be able to trust that the cows have been able to graze the pastures, and had been living in humane conditions, so as to show support for ethically-sound farming practices.
6. There’s actually a thing called the Dairy Lobby
During World War I, we had a surplus of dairy. It was at this point that the USDA Dairy Division started advertising milk more, introducing educational initiatives to school, which successfully heightened demand for dairy. Consumers might be surprised to learn that the dairy lobby wields significant political power, and big dairy companies actually contribute serious partisan donations. In the 2012 elections, over four and a half million dollars was contributed to federal candidates and parties on behalf of the dairy industry. It is interesting to consider what political choices and decisions might be made because politicians answer to the dairy industry.
I’m not saying anybody should or shouldn’t include dairy in their diets. Personally, I would love to be disciplined enough to remove dairy from my diet, but I can’t say that I have.
BECAUSE ICE CREAM. BECAUSE CHEESE.
I’m not a professional nutritionist, but all I can say is that balance is key in any diet. And people should be knowledgeable and informed about what they are putting in their bodies.
I would also encourage people to be aware of where the food is coming from and if the story behind the food is ethically sound. I get it, brownies are yum, but let’s all do our best stay healthy and happy!